Geraint Davies: We cannot afford to wait to take bold action on clean air
With diesel pollution responsible for around 40,000 premature deaths each year, bold action on clean technology and green investment is needed now, writes Geraint Davies MP
Earlier this month, behind the smoke of the Battle of Brexit, the government was summoned again to the High Court for breaching EU air quality standards. No surprise, as diesel pollution in the UK causes some 40,000 premature deaths and costs us £20bn each year according to the Royal College of Physicians.
The devastating effects of exposure to high levels of air pollution are far reaching. They include problems with the respiratory and cardiovascular system; asthma and brain damage in children; miscarriage and premature births; and have more recently been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.
There’s been talk of stopping new diesel and petrol cars in more than 20 years’ time, but action is needed now to reduce the risk of a million premature deaths which will otherwise occur during that time.
The London Mayor has made some progress as, at last after 18 years, it’s the first time that the city hasn’t breached its nitrogen dioxide annual emissions limit before January 6th!
Sadiq Khan’s move to greener busses in pollution hotspots has led to massive reductions in emissions, and he has made a further pledge to double funding for air quality. A welcome act for all us at Westminster, who spend a considerable amount of time in the ‘Big Smoke’.
But the problem extends to all parts of the UK so we need bold action and a holistic approach, which is why I’ve published a Clean Air Bill supported by the Royal College of Physicians and Unicef among others.
The Bill commits to an extension of low-emissions zones, proper testing for vehicles and a fiscal strategy that invests in sustainable transport like electric trams and rewards drivers of cleaner vehicles. We need a financial settlement where car manufacturers, some of whom have cheated the system, pay their contribution. We need to invest in electric buses and trams for all our city centres and diesel duty should be raised below the rate of inflation to help pay the cost.
Drivers and manufacturers are getting the message with diesel sales down versus petrol and new investment in clean technology. We need to promote faster change and ensure companies know the UK is open to green investment which is good for the economy, public health and UK taking a lead on the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The Clean Air Acts of 1956, followed 12,000 deaths in London in one year compared to 10,000 premature deaths each year now. The Great London smog is now instead invisible toxins that need to be tackled as effectively as their predecessor.
The urban sprawl and relative wealth has led to a boost in car ownership and therefore damaging diesel fuel emissions. In a modern Britain we need towns and cities that use sustainable public transport and industries that promote and adopt green energy initiatives and processes.
This bill has already received cross-party support, and I hope that last week’s court case will encourage members to back it and add to its ideas.
Beyond Brexit, these changes are vital to shape a healthy Britain for us all and our children to live in. Clean air quality must be enshrined as a priority. Children have a right to protection and government has a duty to ensure that that right is delivered.
Geraint Davies is Labour MP for Swansea West. The second reading of the Clean Air Bill is on Friday 2nd February